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Yorkshire North East

Mental health – not just a tick box exercise

24 Feb 2020

It’s a controversial thought - but in 2020 this article shouldn’t exist.

It’s no secret that mental health in the workplace is a hot topic nowadays. We hear about it in numerous articles, podcasts and company policies. But, in reality, how much is changing? 

Change in a corporate environment takes time but how quickly should employers be adopting new policies and procedures and putting them into everyday practice? It sometimes appears to be a tick box exercise. Another ‘we need to have a policy’ act without any meaning or support for employees behind it. It has even reached the stage where self-care and resilience are being externally taught by designated professionals.

In 2019 alone, mental health problems at work cost the UK economy £34.9 billion, according to the Centre for Mental Health, which is surprising when you look at the media and the profile of mental health in the workplace over the past few years. Is all just words? Is the representation of this subject in the media untrue?

The corporate environment can be highly pressurised and credit can be given to the companies implementing mental health policies and appointing mental health first aiders. Even though there is a lot of chatter, the pressures and expectations on young people in such environments still do not appear to be commensurate with the messages being projected by the media.

Listening to young people’s experiences of the corporate world in their early to late 20s it is clear to see why young professionals are almost ‘scared’ to leave work before 6pm or arrive any later than 9am. The pressures of the expected 48-60 hour working week and competition for opportunities in some careers are a lot higher than two decades ago. The working hours are longer and, in some respects, the ‘sell your soul’ attitude isn’t disappearing. 

With suicide in young professionals on the rise, you would think that having policies would become standard practice in the day to day running of large companies and corporations. 

I remember times throughout my professional career where I felt overwhelmed with bereavement or was suffering with illness yet still felt emphatically obliged to go into the office and work. 

Maybe I was scared to get fired? 
Maybe I didn’t want people to think I was making excuses? 
Who knows? 

I have never wanted to let anyone down (perhaps it is my own fault) but I have always been harsh on myself and just thought I should suck it up and get on with it. 

Sound familiar? Relatable?

We have all done it at some point!

But my argument is this: if the social norm continues, is what is expected to become ‘the norm’ unachievable? Even though we are not well enough to be in the working environment, do we continuously subject ourselves to undue stress to keep everyone else happy? Everyone eventually reaches their cracking point when under stress, only the length of people’s fuses are different. 

For some this could be a breaking point following no physical signs of stress for months at a time, exacerbated by limited mental health resources from within a company. For others it might be a case of crying for an hour or going for a long run. Everyone is different but the way companies address the mental health of their employees must change. Surely companies care about their employees. Don’t they have a duty of care to their employees in law? From director to trainee, intern to CEO - nothing should differ.

Whilst issues of pressure and unreal expectations on young professional people in the corporate world continue, professional performance will not be fully reached. 

The so called ‘gold standard’ will not be obtained.

This is a fact. 

Let’s move this change forwards more quickly and encourage self-care and wellbeing to be part of everyone’s working day. Mental health policies are never a tick box exercise and I believe they should be seen as a cultural shift that is deep routed in everyday practices – this should be the new ‘norm’!

You may disagree with me. The company you work in may be doing everything perfectly as implemented by their policy, lucky you! 

Just bear in mind there are numerous companies yet to treat their policies as ‘the norm’. The company ‘culture’ may appear fine from the outset but internally if the company is not prepared the make a cultural shift, it is merely a tick box exercise to satisfy the requirement for a company to have a policy.

If every company was like yours, the media would not be publishing articles on mental health in the workplace and, most likely, this article would never have existed. 

By Georgina M Freeman

Georgina was the first Legal Apprentice to join the IoD and since has joined our Yorkshire committee as well becoming a core member. 

Having attended Harvard University, Georgina is now in the ‘start-up stage’ of her business and brings a wealth of experience on company analysis, UK and international Corporate Governance.

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